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Need a scorecard of key players in Napa's land use battles? Here it is

Need a scorecard of key players in Napa's land use battles? Here it is


So many local groups have waded into the fray over proposed, stronger Napa County watershed and tree protections that you need a scorecard to know who’s who.

The roll call of groups can be head-spinning. They include Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Winegrowers of Napa County, Napa Valley Vintners, Coalition Napa Valley, Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture and Napa Vision 2050.

These names might seem like a blur of Napa-this and wine-that. How much simpler things would be if only two groups existed – one saying stronger environmental laws are needed to safeguard reservoirs and combat global warming and the other saying that the wrong upgrades could unnecessarily hurt agriculture.

But one reason various groups formed over the decades is Napa County’s controversial issues have resulted in a range of responses, a gradation of views.

“We represent 553 wineries, which is pretty much every winery,” said Rex Stults of Napa Valley Vintners. “That’s tremendous, but it also has its challenges. With 553 wineries come perhaps 553 different opinions.”

That can lead to new groups being formed to push certain viewpoints further than Napa Valley Vintners or another established, larger group might go.

Plus, not everyone fits into every group. A grape grower may or may not also be a vintner, which involves making wine.

“To become a member of one of these organizations, you would naturally find where your niche is,” Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Klobas said. “Each industry organization really specializes in unique things.”

Some people belong to several groups.

“There’s a lot of cross pollination,” Klobas said.

Stults said Napa Valley Vintners has members who are part of Coalition Napa Valley and members who are part of the Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture. Those two latter groups have different views of the county’s proposed watershed laws.

Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture provided an outlet for those who favored last year’s unsuccessful Measure C watershed and oak protection ballot initiative. The Farm Bureau, Winegrowers of Napa County, Napa Valley Vintners and Napa Valley Grapegrowers opposed the measure.

“We realized there’s a split in the wine industry,” Growers/Vintners spokesperson and Measure C co-author Mike Hackett said.

Napa Vision 2050 is in a class by itself. It isn’t a wine industry group, but rather a coalition of community and environmental groups.

Here is a look at various groups that want a voice in shaping the future of wine country. While possibly exhausting, the list is not exhaustive.

Napa County Farm Bureau

Farm bureaus began forming around 1914. They were required before the University of California would provide farm advisers to a county, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Napa County’s version celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013. It has more than 700 farmers and ranchers as members. Its stated goal is to “is to ensure the right political, social, and economic climate for the continuation of agriculture.”

“Our niche is representing all forms of agriculture,” Klobas said. “And we’re the largest policy organization in Napa Valley that represents agriculture. We have resources that stretch from Sacramento to Washington, D.C.”

Anybody can join the Farm Bureau. But to be on the board of directors, a person must work in agriculture.

Klobas at the Feb. 20 Planning Commission meeting warned the county against going too far in strengthening already-strong conservation laws.

“This is sweeping, landmark legislation, which if it becomes more restrictive, will kill agriculture in Napa County for future generations, period,” he said. “There’s no way around it.”

Napa Valley Vintners

The Napa Valley Vintners Association formed in 1944, with famed vintners Louis Martini and John Daniel among the leaders. Among its early causes was securing an experimental farm near Oakville for the University of California.

“In order to be a member of Napa Valley Vintners, you need to make wine in the Napa Valley on a commercial basis,” Stults said.

About 80 percent of the group’s members also grow grapes.

The group has more than 500 members. Among its listed goals are to provide leadership to solve community and industry issues and to champion Napa Valley “as the world’s premier wine region.”

“I think we have a track record of coming up with positions over the years that are consensus-driven and usually kind of moderate,” Stults said. “Oftentimes the (county) Board of Supervisors, it would appear, has felt comfortable with those positions.”

Stults told the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 29 that Napa Valley Vintners supports the county’s transparent, public process to look at the watershed issue. Having the elected supervisors take up the matter is better than doing it by initiative, he said.

Napa Valley Grapegrowers

The Napa Valley Grape Growers Association held its first meeting on May 20, 1975 in St. Helena. More than 300 people attended.

“It has got to be the biggest farm meeting ever held in the county,” co-organizer Ren Harris told the Napa Register that year. “I think we’ve got a farm organization going for us, for sure.”

Organizers said the group would tackle grower concerns in the areas of pricing, taxes, quality, appellation controls, pesticides and market development. When grape prices fell that summer, the group maintained that wine sales were healthier than vintners seemed to indicate.

Today, Napa Valley Grapegrowers represents more than 700 growers. Its stated mission: “To preserve and promote Napa Valley’s world-class vineyards.”

Molly Moran Williams of the group addressed the Planning Commission on Feb. 20 about the county’s proposed, stronger watershed and tree protection laws. She called the county’s record with existing laws a huge success.

Napa County is a haven for wildlife, biodiversity and sensitive species. Oak woodlands cover 33 percent of the county, chaparral and scrub 21 percent, grasslands 11 percent and vineyards 9 percent. The county over 13 years has seen forests decrease by only 1.2 percent, with a modest growth in vineyards.

“I think a lot of the conversation going on right now has to do with the fear about what could happen to this county,” she said. “But this (success) is what is happening in the county.”

Winegrowers of Napa County

The Winegrowers roots extend back to 1989 with Jack Cakebread’s Breakfast Club, Executive Director Michelle Benvenuto said. Various wine industry figures met in the morning and discussed what was going on in the valley, such as the proposed winery definition ordinance.

Today, the group has 20 members, among them Cakebread Cellars, HALL Wines, Michael Mondavi Family Estate, Pina Vineyard Management and Silverado Premium Properties.

“Our membership is composed of grape growers, wineries and vineyard management,” Benvenuto said. “It is a diverse group. It’s not strictly grape growers or strictly wineries.”

The group’s mission statement mentions promoting sustainable agriculture as the highest and best use of the county’s natural resources. Benvenuto can be seen at virtually every county Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission meeting.

Benvenuto described a link between successful agriculture and protecting the environment. Agriculture is what has kept Napa Valley from being developed like the Santa Clara valley, she said.

The group in a letter to Napa County said the county has not provided adequate notice to property owners who will be affected by the proposed, stronger protections for watersheds and trees.

Napa Vision 2050

A dozen local citizen and environmental groups in early 2015 decided to merge their voices on important issues and speak as Vision 2050. From the Get a Grip on Growth to the local Sierra Club to the Mount Veeder Stewardship Council to Save Rural Angwin, they would team up.

Since then, Vision 2050 has been visible on a number of issues. For example, it opposed the Syar quarry expansion. It opposed the Walt Ranch vineyard project in the mountains between the city of Napa and Lake Berryessa. It called attention to high local cancer rates.

Vision 2050’s view on the proposed, stronger watershed and tree protections is clear. President Charlotte Williams on Jan. 29 told the Board of Supervisors “to stop the dithering, the finger-pointing and the off-loading of responsibility.”

“Please enact the most stringent environmental protection policies and ordinances as possible,” Williams said. “I encourage you to be leaders who work for the greater good.”

Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture

This group emerged into the public spotlight last year favoring stronger watershed protections. Among the 13 members on its executive committee are Andy Beckstoffer—who helped found Napa Valley Grapegrowers 44 years ago—Warren Winiarski of Arcadia Vineyards, Robin Lail of Lail Vineyards and Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards.

The group supported Measure C, the controversial watershed and oak protection initiative that narrowly failed to pass on the June 2018 ballot. In contrast, Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Vintners, Winegrowers of Napa County and Napa Valley Grapegrowers opposed the measure.

Hackett said some in the wine industry are more interested in development and some are more interested in sustainability. Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture members “speak from their hearts, not from their wallets,” he said.

Coalition Napa Valley

This group was started last year. Among its members are Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards, Dario Sattui of Castello di Amorosa, Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone Vineyards, Ryan Waugh of Waugh Family Wines and Julie Arbuckle of Anthem Winery.

A vision paper issued by the group said the county is too focused on winery use permit compliance issues when it should be focused on sustaining, growing and improving its only economic engine.

“Somehow anti-winery vitriol and hyperbole has taken control of the narrative about the greatest wine producing valley in the world, ignoring the singular importance of this industry to the local job market, schools, housing and tax revenues supporting our unique wine country lifestyle,” the paper said.

Coalition Napa Valley recently sent a joint letter to the county with the Farm Bureau and Winegrowers saying that current county conservation regulations are successful. Changes should be based on science and data, not political pressure.

Save the Family Farm

This group announced its existence at the Dec. 18 Board of Supervisors meeting. It is made up of people involved with small farming operations who want the county to keep them in mind when making laws.

John Bonick owns eight acres and grows grapes. He said at that meeting that, perhaps unintentionally, the advantages seem to have gone to the large wine producers in Napa County.

“We just want you to know there’s a crisis for small family farms,” Bonick told supervisors.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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